The first Indian lady pilot at 21

Sarla Thukral (1914 – 15 March 2008) was the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft. Born in 1914, she earned an aviation pilot license in 1936 at the age of 21 and flew a Gypsy Moth solo. She had a four-year-old daughter. After obtaining the initial licence, she persevered and completed one thousand hours of flying in the aircraft owned by the Lahore Flying Club. Her husband, P. D. Sharma, whom she married at 16 and who came from a family which had nine pilots, encouraged her. While Sharma had been the first Indian to get his airmail pilot’s license, flying between Karachi and Lahore, his wife would be the first woman in India to attain her “A” license, when she accumulated more than 1,000 hours of flying.

Tragically, Captain Sharma died in an airplane crash in 1939. After some time, his young widow tried to apply to train for her commercial pilot license, but World War II had begun and civil training was suspended. With a child to raise, and needing to earn her livelihood, Thakral abandoned her plans to become a commercial pilot, returning to Lahore and attending the Mayo School of Art where she trained in the Bengal school of painting, obtaining a diploma in fine arts.

Doodled portrait of Sarla Thakral by Kirthi Jayakumar
Thukral was a dedicated follower of the Arya Samaj, a spiritual community dedicated to following the teachings of the Vedas.Within this community, remarriage was a possibility for Thukral.

After the Partition of India, she moved to Delhi with her two daughters, where she met R. P. Thakral and married him in 1948. Sarla, also known as Mati, became a successful businesswoman, painter and began designing clothes and costume jewellery.She died in 2008.

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